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U.S. Woman At Al Qaeda Trial

Former American hostage Gracia Burnham, left, leaves a courthouse inside a police camp in Bicutan, south of Manila, Philippines, on Thursday, July 29, 2004. Burnham testified against her alleged Muslim extremist abductors in a heavily guarded court, recounting her yearlong jungle captivity in the southern island of Basilan that ended with her husband dead.
AP
Pointing to a rusty dog chain, a prosecutor asked American missionary Gracia Burnham if it was used to shackle her husband before he was killed in a bloody rescue attempt after a year of captivity in the jungle. "I recognize that chain," Burnham testified softly at the trial of eight al Qaeda-linked guerrillas.

Burnham, 45, also recounted how her captors celebrated after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. "There was jubilation. They were patting each other's back," she was quoted by a prosecutor as saying.

Police barred journalists, photographers and TV cameras from the trial, at a police camp guarded by special forces. Burnham was whisked into the courtroom wearing a baseball cap and a black jacket over a bulletproof vest, her head bowed to avoid cameras.

Philippine authorities and FBI agents brought Burnham from a Manila safehouse to testify Thursday. She arrived in the country in secrecy late Monday.

Burnham, of Wichita, Kansas, was invited to testify under a mutual legal assistance treaty between Washington and Manila. The trial is part of the Philippines' quest to impose justice on suspected Muslim militants from the Abu Sayyaf group accused of mass kidnappings, deadly bombings and beheadings.

During 2 1/2 hours on the stand, Burnham identified six of the handcuffed suspects, separated from her by a wooden grill, prosecutor Aristotle Reyes said.

"According to her, she cannot forget them because she ate and lived with them for almost a year," Reyes said. "So far, she is the witness who had the clearest recollection of what happened."

He said Burnham was brought to tears twice, including when she described the death of her husband, Martin, 42, during a commando rescue mission.

The Burnhams, longtime Christian missionaries for the Florida-based New Tribes Mission, were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary when they were abducted at a resort on western Palawan island on May 27, 2001, and taken by speedboat to southern Basilan Island.

Also seized were Guillermo Sobero of Corona, California, and 17 Filipino workers and tourists. Sobero was among several hostages beheaded.

Prosecutor Leo Dacera said Gracia Burnham was critical to the case because she was held the longest.

"She is important in the sense that she would have firsthand knowledge of the suspects who last held her ... to tie up the whole conspiracy from beginning to end," he said.

But a lawyer for defendant Alhamzer Manatad Limbong said Burnham's testimony would not hurt his defense.

"It's only good for drama, but for purposes of establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Burnham testimony is not enough. We have witnesses who say that he is innocent," defense lawyer Oliver Lozano said.

For Burnham, the trial also could provide closure to the 377-day nightmare.

An army raid on June 7, 2002, left her with a gunshot wound to her thigh and killed her husband and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap in a jungle ravine near the southern coastal town of Sirawai. The raid ended a hostage crisis that prompted Washington to provide counterterrorism training for Philippine forces.

Other hostages were ransomed off, freed or escaped.

In her book, "In the Presence of My Enemies," Burnham described brushes with death during several gunbattles, hunger, forced jungle marches and sleepless nights.

The book stirred controversy because of her allegations that an unidentified Filipino general tried to keep half the money raised for a possible ransom and that soldiers delivered food and sold weapons to the guerrillas.

It also linked her captors to Osama Bin Laden. Burnham said that in May 2001 — four months before the Sept. 11 attacks — they told Martin Burnham to say in a ransom message that he was being held by "the Osama bin Laden group."

She also was shown a rusty dog chain attached to two padlocks and handcuffs and was asked if it was used to shackle her husband. Burnham testified that it was.

Burnham has three children Jeff, 17, Mindy, 14, and Zach, 13.

U.S.-backed offensives dislodged the guerrillas from their jungle lairs on Basilan. Philippine officials now consider the group a spent force, down from about 1,000 guerrillas four years ago to about 300, although it has been linked to several recent terror attacks.

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